A Lexington County woman who police say left two children alone in a vehicle Friday afternoon told law enforcement that the truck was running, locked and air conditioned.
The sheriff’s department declined to specify what danger the children were in during the Friday incident when asked by The State on Tuesday.
But when the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department charged Maria Rivas-Velazques, 34, with two counts of unlawful conduct toward a child, the deputy cited the heat index – 91 degrees at the time of the incident – in the arrest warrants. The warrants say that placed the children “in a reasonable risk of harm” that could affect their health and safety.
Rivas-Velazquez told the deputy that her two children, a 5-year-old girl and 23-month-old boy, were in the air conditioned truck for three to five minutes while she went into Lowe’s on Augusta Road near West Columbia. That’s according to the sheriff’s department incident report.
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Rivas-Velazquez told The State newspaper on Tuesday that she doesn’t speak much English. She declined to comment further, saying she’s going through a difficult time.
She was driving out of a parking space as the deputy arrived, according to the incident report.
The man who called police about the children flagged down the deputy and pointed out the truck, the incident report says. He told the deputy that from the time he spotted the vehicle to the time the mother exited Lowe’s, the children were in the vehicle about 10 to 15 minutes. He told the deputy that the girl was jumping from the front of the vehicle to the back, playing, and that the younger child was strapped into a car seat.
Officials turned the children over to their father, according to the incident report.
South Carolina law does not have a statute dealing with children left unattended in vehicles, according to Michelle Dhunjishah, director of the Children’s Law Center at the University of South Carolina. In situations such as the incident on Friday, officers have to use discretion to determine if a child is in danger.
Under state law, unlawful conduct toward a child is punishable by a fine at the discretion of the court, up to 10 years in prison, or both.
Rivas-Velazquez was six months pregnant at the time of the arrest, according to the incident report. She spent a night in jail at the Lexington County Detention Center – officials at bond court said she received a $10,000 personal recognizance bond Saturday.